Last summer, Oregon Shakespeare Festival presented a new work addressing the Native American experience, Distant Thunder.
As theatre continues to widen its net with the stories it tells onstage, the musical from writers Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Shaun Taylor-Corbett (In The Heights, Jersey Boys) offers an opportunity to share one of these stories by a member of the Native American community.
“My son, Shaun, was in his teens before he was told by his father's family that he was partly Blackfeet. Often, families of mixed race were embarrassed to admit to Native blood,” says Lynne Taylor-Corbett.
Many of the actors in Distant Thunder have Native heritage and will celebrate their roots as part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day October 8.
Geraldine Keams, who plays Grandma Jingle Dress in the show, was raised by her grandmother on the Navajo Reservation along with eight siblings. She grew up herding sheep and gathering firewood before she was chosen to star in the movie The Outlaw Josey Wales with Clint Eastwood.
“From the Rez to Hollywood!” she says.
Spencer Battiest, who lives on the Seminole Reservation, went to bed one night thinking he was poor and awoke to discover he, along with every member of the tribe, was a shareholder in the Hard Rock Cafe, which the Seminole had miraculously been able to purchase.
April Ortiz, who played Daniela in the National Tour of In the Heights, explains her grandmother's family hid among indigenous Mexicans along the Texas border for fear that they would be scalped. (A child's scalp was worth $25 at that time.) Her tribe, the Tigua, is now all but extinct.
Distant Thunder “depicts life on the rez and strong, resilient people dealing with the loss of their language and culture with courage and humor,” says Taylor-Corbett.
AMAS Musical Theatre will present a workshop of the original work at ART/NY December 6 and 7.